A new report by the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth highlights the need for greater vigilance around the use of secure isolation in Ontario youth justice facilities. The report, titled “It’s A Matter of Time: Systemic Review of Secure Isolation in Ontario Justice Facilities,” explores the current use of secure isolation through examining statistical information and log data from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS), as well as interviews conducted with 141 youth.
Secure isolation refers to the locking of a young person in a specially designated room to isolate the individual from others. Ontario laws and regulations dictate that young people under 16 years of age cannot be kept in secure isolation for more than eight hours in one day or 24 hours in one week, while a young person 16 years of age or older cannot be held in secure isolation for more than 72 hours unless this is approved by a provincial director as per the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
While the report found that the overall use of secure isolation across the province is declining, it also found a wide variability of use across facilities, as well as considerable variability in the length of time it is used. Findings also identified that secure isolation may be particularly harmful to people with mental health issues and/or trauma in their histories as they may be especially vulnerable to the detrimental effects of isolation.
The report’s findings are consistent with previous research which has raised concerns on the misuse of segregation as a form of treatment for individuals with mental health and addictions issues.
“Incarceration in solitary confinement can exacerbate a preexisting mental illness, or bring about mental health issues in individuals who have previously been free of any such conditions,” said Camille Quenneville, CEO of Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario. “CMHA Ontario supports the Advocate’s recommendation to prohibit the placement of a young person in secure isolation for a period that exceeds 24 hours without exception.”
The report also recommends independent monitoring of the use of solitary confinement. It asks for the advocate to be notified whenever a youth is held longer than 24 hours or whenever mental health issues are involved, and the development of consistent standards by MCYS for confinement conditions at each youth justice facility.
For more information on the report, visit the Provincial Advocate’s website.